The death of Mac Miller was as surprising as it was devastating for the rap community. To put it mildly, he was just getting started. Mac was loved and respected by his peers, as well as music lovers as a whole. The diversity of his sound from album to album reflects his growth as a musician and an artist; it shows us how much work he left unfinished or had not yet started. Just before his death, Mac released Swimming, which gave us an unfamiliar and long awaiting glimpse into the deep layers of his conscience. Though he’d been a respected artist for years, it felt as if he was taken from us just as we were getting to know him.
Circles carries with it a familiar sound to Swimming due to the involvement of renowned producer Jon Brion, though if you dive deeper, you hear a bit more honesty, rich in anguish. Before the album’s release, we were handed the single “Good News,” which left us optimistic for what was to come. “Good News,” is as honest as it gets, and the musical arrangement paired with it, equally beautiful. The chord progression sounds as if just as it’s about to reach consonance, it pushes through taking us around again, bringing us full circle. Like Swimming, Circles lacks features, potentially so that Mac could be more open and intimate with us about the current revelations in his mind.
As he’s done in his more recent albums, Mac continues to find harmony between singing and rapping. “Hands,” being the only song entirely consisting of rap. On the majority of tracks, Mac sings the hook and raps the verses; however, few songs such as “Everybody” are comprised of singing alone. It’s in these songs Mac truly opens up to us, speaking of the inevitable end, and loneliness along the way. Though Mac is loved amongst the rap community and a frequent collaborator, his lyrics display the distance he felt from his peers and fans.
There’s an apparent theme shared between Swimming and Circles; that of struggles with depression and the anxiety’s that follow. Mac’s stand out tracks share this theme, while the others lack captivity and appear empty, partially due to the nature of this posthumous album. Albums released after the artists’ death are received differently, especially when the wound is this fresh. However, the tracks stuffed with the inner workings of Mac’s cluttered yet creative mind, feel like a necessary goodbye.
After all is said and done, the death of Mac Miller is tragic for music as a whole. He was a young and talented artist, whose musical and lyrical abilities hadn’t yet peaked. He was on a steady incline, picking up more and more, album by album. Circles, though inevitably similar to Swimming, hit us a bit harder, and left us grateful. The lyrical depth, somber themes, and original musical arrangements in Circles amount to what may be his finest and most polished work.